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Mr and Mrs James Maybrick

Florence Elizabeth Maybrick (1862 - 1941) was a former American citizen who spent fourteen years in prison in England after being convicted of murdering her considerably older English husband.


Early life

Born Florence Elizabeth Chandler on September 3, 1862 in Mobile, Alabama, the daughter of William George Chandler, a partner in the banking firm of St. John Powers and Company. He was also a former Mayor of Mobile.[1] By now the stepdaughter of Baron Adolph von Roques, a cavalry officer in the Eighth Currassier Regiment of the German Army, she married cotton broker James Maybrick at St. James' Church, Piccadilly in London on July 27, 1881, settling with him in Battlecrease House, Aigburth, a suburb of Liverpool. They had met on board ship as they were both travelling to Great Britain, Florence travelling with her mother, the Baroness von Roques. Other passengers were either amused or shocked by the sight of the young woman spending so much time alone in the company of Maybrick, who was 23 years her senior.[2]

Florence made quite an impression on the social scene in Liverpool, and the two were usually to be found at the most important balls and functions, the very picture of a happy, successful couple. But all was not as it seemed. Maybrick allegedly had a drug habit and a number of mistresses, one of whom bore him five children. Florence, increasingly unhappy in her marriage, entered into several liaisons of her own. One was with a local businessman, Alfred Brierley, which her husband was told about. She was also suspected of having an affair with one of her brothers-in-law, Edwin. A violent row ensued after Maybrick heard rumors about Florie's relations with Brierley, during which Maybrick assaulted Florence and announced his intention of seeking a divorce.

Murder charge

In April 1889, Florence Maybrick bought fly-papers containing arsenic and soaked them in water. At her subsequent trial she claimed to have done this for the purpose of extracting the poison for cosmetic use. James Maybrick was taken ill on 27 April 1889 after self-administering a double dose of strychnine. His doctors treated him for acute dyspepsia, but his condition deteriorated. On 8 May Florence Maybrick wrote a compromising letter to Brierley, which was intercepted by Alice Yapp, the nanny, who passed it along to James Maybrick's brother, Edwin, who was staying at Battlecrease. Edwin, himself by many accounts one of Florie's lovers, shared the contents of the letter with his brother Michael Maybrick, who was effectively the head of the family. By Michael's orders Florie was immediately deposed as mistress of her house and held under house arrest. On 9 May a nurse reported that Mrs Maybrick had surreptitiously tampered with a meat-juice bottle which was afterwards found to contain a half-grain of arsenic. Mrs Maybrick later testified that her husband had begged her to administer it as a pick-me-up. However, he never drank its contents.[3]

James Maybrick died at his home on 11 May 1889. His brothers, suspicious as to the cause of death had his body examined. It was found to contain slight traces of arsenic, but not enough to be considered fatal. It is uncertain whether this was taken by Maybrick himself or administered by another person. Florence Maybrick was charged with his murder and stood trial at St George's Hall, Liverpool, before Justice James Fitzjames Stephen where she was convicted and sentenced to death. Jusice Stevens would end his days soon thereafter in a hospital for the insane.

After a public outcry Henry Matthews, the Home Secretary, and Lord Chancellor Halsbury concluded 'that the evidence clearly establishes that Mrs Maybrick administered poison to her husband with intent to murder; but that there is ground for reasonable doubt whether the arsenic so administered was in fact the cause of his death'.[4] The death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment as punishment for a crime with which she was never charged. During the 1890s new evidence was publicized by her supporters, but there was no possibility of an appeal, and the Home Office was not inclined to release her,[5] in spite of the strenuous efforts of Lord Russell, the Lord Chief Justice.

The case was something of a cause celebre and attracted considerable newspaper coverage on both sides of the Atlantic. James Maybrick had taken arsenic on a regular basis as it was regarded by some men then as an aphrodisiac and tonic. A city chemist confirmed that he had supplied the dead man with quantities of the poison - a search of Battlecrease House later turned up enough to kill at least fifty people. Although her marriage was clearly over in all but name, Florence had little motive to murder her husband. The financial provision James Maybrick had made for her and his children in his will was paltry and some say she would have been far better off with him alive but legally separated from her. Many people held the view that Florence had indeed poisoned her husband because he was about to divorce her which, in Victorian society, would see her ruined. An even more devastating motive might have been the prospect of losing the custody of her beloved children.


Florence Maybrick on her release from prison

After detention in Woking and Aylesbury prisons, Florence Maybrick was released in January 1904, having spent fourteen years in custody. Although she had lost her American citizenship when she married her British husband,[6] she returned to the United States, where initially she earned a living on the lecture circuit, during which she continued to protest her innocence. In later life, after some months spent unsuccessfully as a housekeeper, Florence became a recluse, living in a squalid three-room cabin near Gaylordsville, South Kent, Connecticut with only her cats for company. She never saw her children again. Few residents had any knowledge of Florence's true identity and the lady who had once charmed Victorian Liverpool died alone and penniless on 23 October 1941, and was buried in the grounds of South Kent School. Among her few possessions was a tattered family bible. Pressed between its pages was a scrap of paper, which, in faded ink bore directions for the soaking of flypapers for use as a beauty treatment.

Florence Maybrick wrote a book about her experiences soon after her release. A rare copy of My Fifteen Lost Years is still held by Liverpool City Libraries.

The Maybrick case was dramatized on the radio series The Black Museum in 1952 under the title of "Meat Juice".

Non-fiction books and pamphlets about the case

  • Boswell, Charles, and Lewis Thompson. The Girl with the Scarlet Brand (1954).
  • Christie, Trevor L. Etched in Arsenic (1968).
  • Daisy Bank Print. and Pub. Co. Full Account of the Life & Trial of Mrs. Maybrick: Interesting Details of her Earlier Life (ca. 1901).
  • Densmore, Helen. The Maybrick Case (1892).
  • Irving, Henry B. Trial of Mrs. Maybrick (Notable English Trials series, 1912).
  • Irving, Henry B. "Mrs. Maybrick", in James H. Hodge (ed.), Famous Trials III (Penguin, 1950) pp.97-134
  • J.L.F. The Maybrick Case: A Treatise Showing Conclusive Reasons for the Continued Public Dissent from the Verdict and "Decision." (1891).
  • L.E.X. Is Mrs. Maybrick guilty?: A Defence Shewing that the Verdict of Guilty is not Founded on Fact, and is Inconsistent with the Presence of a Strong Element of Doubt; with Reasons for Mrs. Maybrick's Release (1889).
  • Levy, J. H. The Necessity for Criminal Appeal: As Illustrated by the Maybrick Case and the Jurisprudence of Various Countries (1899).
  • MacDougall, Alexander. The Maybrick Case (1891 and 1896).
  • Mason, Eleanor. Florie Chandler: or, The Secret to the Maybrick Poisoning Case (1890).
  • Maybrick, Florence E. Mrs. Maybrick's Own Story: My Fifteen Lost Years (1904).
  • Morland, Nigel. This Friendless Lady (1957).
  • Ryan Jr., Bernard. The Poisoned Life of Mrs. Maybrick (1977).
  • Tidy, Charles Meymott and Rawdon Macnamara. The Maybrick Trial: A Toxicological Study (1890).

Fiction inspired by the case

  • Berkeley, Anthony. The Wychford Poisoning Case (1926).
  • Fessenden, Laura Dayton. Bonnie Mackirby (1898).
  • Lowndes, Mrs. Belloc. Letty Lynton (1931).
  • Lowndes, Mrs. Belloc. Story of Ivy (1928).
  • Sayers, Dorothy L. Strong Poison (1930).
  • Shearing, Joseph. Airing in a Closed Carriage (1943).

See also


  1. ^ Florence E. Maybrick, 'Mrs Maybrick's Own Story: My Lost Fifteen Years' Pub. Funk and Wagnalls Company (1904)
  2. ^ Ryan Jr., Bernard. The Poisoned Life of Mrs. Maybrick (1977)
  3. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, ‘Maybrick , Florence Elizabeth (1862–1941)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  4. ^ The letters of Queen Victoria, ed. G. E. Buckle, 3 vols., 3rd ser. (1930–32), vol. 1, p. 527
  5. ^ Richard Davenport-Hines, ‘Maybrick , Florence Elizabeth (1862–1941)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  6. ^ Ryan Jr., Bernard. The Poisoned Life of Mrs. Maybrick (1977)

Law & Order - Criminal Intent, Year Three, Episode 'Sound Babies'

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